Thursday, November 29, 2007

Short takes

I haven't much time today, but these things need note.

Lies, damned lies, and Rudy Giuliani's numbers

If numerals could file crime reports, Rudy Giuliani would be going up the river for a long stay.

After his amazing assault and battery on statistics on various numbers relating to his mayoralty, and his extended torture of statistics relating to cancer and other medical issues, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised to now find that he seems to have had, um, some little accounting issues about tens of thousands (a number now upped by news reports to hundreds of thousands) of dollars expended--willy nilly--by the people of New York City in providing him 24/7 police security protection while he visited his out-of-town mistress.

I want to put right up here at the top that the critical issue is not whether Giuliani stole or misappropriated city money: he did not, and no one claims he did. But Giuliani, unable to dodge the thoroughly documented facts, is falling back on pretending that that's the issue, shrugging it off as a "political attack" and justifying it by noting that all the charges were reimbursed by the NYPD. Again: that's not the point. The point is that these were tens of thousands (the Times refers to hundreds of thousands) of needless City expenses incurred solely to expedite Giuliani's satisfying of his lusts--and that they were deliberately hidden in weird ways so that no one would notice what his private catting around was costing the taxpayers in public money. That it is what is the story: never lose track of that basic fact.

The initial disclosure by web site derived from lawfully obtained official New York City records. Since the mainstream media are more interested in Rudy's denials than in the facts he's denying, let's feature a few of those facts (but you really, really should check the linked source pages).
  • As New York mayor, Giuliani billed obscure city agencies for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses amassed during the time when he was beginning an extramarital relationship with future wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons.

  • The mayor’s office refused to explain the accounting to city auditors, citing “security.”

  • The Hamptons visits resulted in hotel, gas, food, and numerous other special costs for Giuliani’s New York Police Department security detail.

  • Asked about this article after it was published on Wednesday, Giuliani said: "It's not true," an amazing claim in light of the documents. American Express bills and travel documents obtained by Politico suggest another reason City Hall may have considered the documents sensitive: They detail three summers of visits to Southampton, the Long Island town where Judith Nathan--his mistress, later to become wife number three--had an apartment. Auditors "were unable to verify that these expenses were for legitimate or necessary purposes," City Comptroller William Thompson wrote.
Now it is certainly so that the City routinely provides, as I said, 24/7 police security coverage to its mayor: that coverage is not at issue here. What is at issue are, first, that Giuliani greatly upped the costs to the citizenry of that protection by the many needless (as respects his job as Mayor) out-of-town trips made for no purpose than to visit his mistress. The police may be there all the time anyway, but they don't incur tens of thousands of dollars in travel costs if hizzoner stays in the city of which he is mayor.

Second is the bizarre way the costs were, it is clear, deliberately hidden: by being scattered hither and yon amongst a host of minor City bureaus having utterly zunt to do with the Police, security, or the Mayor's office (places like the New York City Loft Board, which oversees converting office space to living space). Months later, at the end of the year, the Police Department reimbursed those various departments for the costs charged to them. The whole shenanigan was, with painful if retrospective obviousness, put together solely to bury the existence and nature of the costs deep in obscurity.

Third, and perhaps most telling, is how Giuliani has responded to the revelations. First, he denied them. That almost immediately became an impossible position. Next he claimed that there was nothing unusual about the bizarre juggling of revenue sourcing. Then he claimed that it really wasn't his business, that the Police Department did it all, according to mystic methods of their own that he neither knew nor cared about. When that one seemed to have a leak or two in it, he took up the classic "retreat to the keep" defence: it's a smear by his enemies. Why, why--it might have even come from Democrats!

Say what? Something's not wrong--or possibly criminal--if the party who uncovers the data is not an intimate old friend? We what, we let criminals off on a catch-and-release method if they're Republicans and the cop is a Democrat (or vice-versa)? I don't think so.

Exactly how much wrongdoing there may or may not have been in a legal sense remains to be seen as and when the experts get their teeth into the evidence. But what ought to be sparkling clear is that Giuliani engaged in at the very least pretty scuzzy conduct (in the course of engaging in another scuzzy pattern of conduct, openly keeping a mistress while elected chief executive of a major city), and has gone postal over the revelation of the facts.

The scandal is a two-fer for the American people, especially the hyper-moralistic far right that all the Republican candidates are so assiduously courting: sex and money.

Here are a few more tidbits, all worth following out:
  • Instead, Giuliani and his aides focused their attention on the issue of whether the unlikely divisions of the mayor's office had been reimbursed — not why the expenses were billed to out-of-the-way agencies such as the New York City Loft Board in the first place: a follow-up by

  • New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson told ABC News that Giuliani's administration billed obscure city agencies for his security detail's travel expenses during his visits to the Hamptons: ABC News.

  • "You have an explanation. Obviously your explanation is quite different than the original report. How do you think this will affect your candidacy? Or the way people perceive you?" CBS News interview.

  • But neither Mr. Giuliani nor Mr. Lhota explained why the travel expenses for the security detail were spread across the budgets of an array of obscure mayoral offices rather than paid out of a single account in the mayor’s office: The New York Times.

  • Politico editor-in-chief John Harris defended the Web sites's reporting. "This was a fair and carefully reported story. We gave the Giuliani campaign ample opportunity to dispute the story or comment on our reporting before publishing and they did not do so," Harris said. "Since the story ran, we have not heard from the campaign disputing any substantive aspect of the story." CNN.
I had some other stuff on other topics, but it can wait a day or two. This is the Big One that every American ought to be focussed right in on. Some in the blogosphere are thinking (or hoping) that as this develops it will effectively end Giuliani's candidacy. I think they're nuts: no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people (as H. L. Mencken never really said). But it does have a fighting chance of being a serious body blow. It depends if Romney can do more than stutter over this, Thompson more than pontificate, or Huckabee more than crack a joke line.

We shall see what we shall see. (Or we will see what we will see--I can never get that clear.)

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